Ever since winning over even NYC’s staunchest pizza traditionalists with his purple potato-topped pies at PeteZaaz, Pete Entner’s career trajectory has been on a steady rise. In fact, the former Brooklyn mag “30 under 30” ended up expanding his reach with O.T.C (a characteristically eccentric deep dish spot) in Houston, in addition to deepening his Brooklyn roots with Boomwich, a purveyor of crispy avocado, Dr. Pepper-roasted pork butt, and Cheezit-dusted sandwiches.
But this past September, a hand-mangling incident during a lucrative hotel catering job may have irrevocably altered his career (although astoundingly, in true chef style, it didn’t prevent him from following through on the gig).
We talked with Entner about the events leading up to the accident, and—due to the loss of his dominant hand—his thoughts on what comes next.
What exactly happened on the night of the incident?
It was September 10th. I was preparing to cater an engagement party at a hotel (which I’m currently not at liberty to name) and their elevators happened to be dangerously faulty. Whereas most won’t close with bodies in the way, the elevator I was unloading suddenly slammed shut. I was able to get out just in time, with the exception of my hand, which was flattened between the two doors. I woke the entire hotel with my screaming. Everyone was surprised I didn’t pass out; it was like being hit by a car.
How did you eventually get your hand free?
Every time we were able to open the door just slightly, it slammed back again just as hard. The hotel’s safety key didn’t work, but I happened to have wine key in my pocket and my cousin was eventually able to find a screwdriver, so we were able to use them to at least wedge the doors a bit and release some of the pressure until the firemen arrived…15 minutes later.
I’m assuming you immediately headed to the hospital?
I arrived at Methodist around two in the morning. Half of my hand was literally as flat as a credit card. Thankfully, it returned to normal size about 12 hours later which was a relief, because I didn’t want to go through life looking like the guy from Scary Movie. But after determining that there was only superficial bruising, the doctor released me that night. He referred me to a specialist for follow-up 10-days later, but they wouldn’t take my insurance or workers comp, so I ended up going to my primary for a second opinion. She sent me to a great hand doctor who got me an MRI the next day, and discovered that Methodist had missed two fractures, not to mention a whole lot of nerve damage, which goes all the way up to my shoulder.
So what’s the official diagnosis?
Originally, the doctor’s reports declared me 100% disabled, unable to work until further notice. When they realized I was a chef, it turned into “you can’t work at all.” I’m still waiting on additional results regarding the extent of my nerve damage. I’ve started physical therapy, but I can barely hold a pen, let alone a knife.
What does this mean for the future of your businesses, not to mention your career as a chef?
Cooking isn’t just my career, it’s my entire life. After leaving the emergency room in the middle of the night, I still ended up delegating that party…how could I not? It was the biggest party I had ever worked on myself, and I’d been preparing for over five months. I had to make sure it was perfect, no matter that I was down a hand and operating on zero sleep.
As for Boomwich, we were already in a time of transition…we closed down our Boerum Hill shop with the intention of moving locations. And I have a big project in the works that involves both Boomwich and PeteZaaz, situated in a very popular spot. So I’ll still be involved in the restaurant industry somehow. But I can’t even comprehend the idea of never being able to work in a kitchen again. Which is why I’ve begun practicing with my left hand!